Sleep Apnea

If you often have trouble sleeping and snore loudly, now’s the time to get screened for sleep apnea by an expert like Dr. Nancy Becker, a leading ear, nose, and throat specialist in the Puget Sound area. Call her Enumclaw or Bonney Lake, Washington, clinic or book an appointment online to see if innovative breathing devices or other treatments can help you sleep better and avoid serious complications.

Sleep Apnea Q & A

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a chronic disorder in which your brain and other vital organs receive insufficient oxygen levels due to repeatedly interrupted breathing (up to dozens of times) while you sleep. If the soft tissue in the back of your throat collapses intermittently and blocks your airway, you have the most common type, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). With the other type, central sleep apnea, your brain’s respiratory control center doesn’t send neural signals telling your diaphragm muscle to contract, so your lungs fail to breathe.

Symptoms of sleep apnea may include:

  • Excessively loud snoring
  • Poor sleep quality (frequent wakings or insomnia)
  • Headaches in the morning
  • Hoarse throat upon waking
  • Low energy levels
  • Poor concentration
  • Dangerous level of drowsiness (motor skills impairment)

Failure to treat sleep apnea can lead to depression, high blood pressure, and diabetes, or even life-threatening cardiovascular conditions like heart attacks and strokes.

What causes sleep apnea?

Risk factors for sleep apnea may include having one or more of the following attributes:

  • Male (though women can develop it)
  • Overweight or obese
  • Age 40 year or older
  • Genetically predisposed to sleep apnea
  • Neck girth of 17+ inches (men) or 16+ inches (women)
  • Large tongue or tonsils
  • Small jaw bone
  • Deviated septum
  • Suffering from acid reflux
  • Sinus infection or other temporary airway constrictions

How is sleep apnea diagnosed?

Dr. Becker orders a polysomnogram sleep apnea test, a study in which she records your brain signals and other indicators while you sleep. In addition to monitoring your brain functions (EEG), she may also test your eye movements (EOG), muscle movements (EMG), and heart rhythm and rate (ECG). Other testing may include measuring your nasal airflow with a breathing sensor and your snoring levels with a microphone.

How is sleep apnea treated?

For severe cases, Dr. Becker occasionally recommends surgery. For mild cases, she sometimes advises changing lifestyle habits to lose weight and sleep uninterrupted. Tips include avoiding everything from alcohol and sleeping pills to smoking and sleeping on your back. However, Dr. Becker often prescribes continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines.

How do CPAP machines treat sleep apnea?

CPAP machines are sleeping aids used at home where you wear a small mask or breathing piece with your mouth or nose. A motorized pump and tube deliver a continuous flow of air, keeping your airways open at all times and maintaining proper oxygen levels in your body. Modern CPAP machines are smaller, quieter, and more comfortable than early models.

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